Films such as “Goodfellas,” “The Departed” and “Scarface” have set the blueprint for most of today’s gangster movies. “Legend” attempts to set itself apart with a unique premise, a set of twin gangster brothers with completely different personalities.
Instead of having two different actors play the legendary Kray brothers, director & writer Brian Helgeland chose to have rising star Tom Hardy portray both Kray brothers. Not many actors have the acting ability to not only play two roles in one film, but two roles that are the polar opposite of one another.
Hardy’s complete command of both the Kray brothers is incredible, and the main reason to watch “Legend.” At times, Hardy’s performance is so engrossing you forget the same man plays both brothers.
Reggie Kray is the “smooth and suave” brother. A charming ladies’ man, beloved by all in his neighborhood, Reggie is also the brains of the operation. Hardy is able to inject his own infectious charisma into Reggie, to the point you almost forget Reggie is a dangerous gangster. On the other end of the spectrum is Reggie’s twin brother, Ronnie Kray. When we first meet Ronnie, his brother is visiting him in a mental hospital.
A certified paranoid schizophrenic, with an unquenchable blood lust—and an openly gay gangster, something unheard of in the 1960s—Ronnie is a character the likes of which we have not seen in a gangster film. Hardy is able to give Ronnie an extremely intimidating persona; every scene Ronnie is in makes you nervous, and you never know what to expect from him.
The Krays do not have much of a code of conduct. They take what they want, by any means necessary. The only consistency to the Krays is the loyalty they have for each other.
Reggie, throughout the film, finds himself having to defend Ronnie against the consequences of his irrational and often violent decisions. You often feel Reggie would be able to accomplish more without Ronnie, but his loyalty to his brother is some of the only humanity left in him, and ironically enough his biggest weakness.
Almost as interesting as the Krays themselves is the way the filmmakers were able to bring both of Hardy’s performances together, scene after scene. Each scene had to be shot twice in order to capture both of Hardy’s performances for that scene. Perhaps the most impressive of these scenes is when Reggie and Ronnie come to blows; the whole time, I found myself wondering how they were able to make it all look so convincing.
The problem with “Legend” is that, in spite of the interesting characters, the storyline itself is extremely predictable. While watching, you can’t help but be reminded of different events or scenes you’ve seen in other gangster films. While there are only so many different ways you can tell a gangster story, “Legend” borrows so much from other films that you can predict how the film will end about a half an hour in. With such unique characters and such great performances to work with, one could only wish Helgeland had been able to utilize them to the fullest with a more satisfying story.
The strength of Tom Hardy’s performances alone is enough to make an average gangster film worth watching.
Although the story is lacking, interesting characters and dynamic performances will make it enjoyable enough for any fan of the gangster film genre.